Mar-Apr: We'll Pickles again

So that's it for another parliament. Done, dusted and dissolved. From Cleggmania to coalition, it's been a crazy old five years. We've laughed, we've cried, but what have we learned?

Well, let's see - making a weekly bin collection a "fundamental right" is harder than you think, "localism" is a bit of a tricky concept really and "keeping an eye on the cash position" is apparently not a priority for Whitehall's best and brightest, resulting in DCLG finishing 2012-13 £217m in the red with an unauthorised bank overdraft. Not that we go on about that.

Oh yeah, and Eric Pickles really, really likes flags.

But how will history judge the Chief? Reformer? Champion? Tyrant? A "model of lean government" (George Osborne, June 2013)? "The worst local government minister in living memory" (Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, January 2015)? A man viewed with "almost universal displeasure" by councillors of all stripes (BDO, February 2014)? Or the real "greatest living Yorkshireman" (not David Cameron, October 2014)?

It's all about perspective, isn't it? On the last day of term, Eric modestly informed the Commons of his lengthy list of accomplishments - highlights included council tax frozen and down 11 per cent in real terms since 2010, creating an army of "armchair auditors" to scrutinise council spending, central funding that is "fair to all" and turning around 105,000 households under the Troubled Families programme - something the secretary of state said has saved the taxpayer a whopping £1.2bn. 

"I believe we have transformed local democracy for the better - more efficient, more responsive and more innovative than before: we have delivered on the aspiration set out in the Coalition agreement five years ago," Pickles said.

But there's always someone, somewhere who wants to nitpick isn't there? At the start of March, the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy pointed out that the "virtual freeze" on council tax across this parliament has cost public services £2.8bn. Chief executive Rob Whiteman said we must "candidly address" if this sort of thing is, you know, sustainable.

Then there's the Public Accounts Committee, who argued as far back as September there is "no convincing evidence" that Eric's army of armchair auditors are actually empowered to hold councils to account over the £36bn or so they spend.

Elsewhere, March saw not one but two reports - from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation - pointing out once again that funding cuts have hit the most deprived areas the hardest. 

The JRF said the "historic link" been spending and need has been broken and  the poorest councils have seen spending per head fall by £182 more than the most affluent since 2010-11

The IFS, meanwhile, said spending per person dropped by an average of 23.4 per cent between 2009-10 and 2014-15, but the reduction was much higher for London's boroughs (31.4 per cent), the North East (26.5 per cent) and the North West (25.7 per cent). These areas are also most likely to lose out over the next five years, it added.

Then there's Jonathan Portes of the NIESR, who called Eric's £1.2bn Troubled Families savings "highly misleading" and "almost completely meaningless".

"As the Government's own document admits, we simply don't know yet what would have happened without the programme. Some or all of the so-called savings might have happened anyway - we just don't know yet," he told the Mirror's Ampp3d.

Of course, it's not necessarily the end of the road for Eric at DCLG - as he said himself while setting out that list of achievements, "there's more to do". Indeed, while the Commons wound down and others, like leader of the House William Hague, took a last, wistful look around (before trying, and failing, to stab the Speaker squarely in the front), the Picklesian reforming zeal was still in full swing.

With his minister for faith hat on, Eric trumpeted the passing of the Local Government (Religious Observances) Act, which ensures that all councils, including parishes, can choose to hold prayers at the start of meetings.

And lo, Eric did sayeth: "The right to worship is a fundamental and hard-fought British liberty, and the fight for religious freedom in British history is deeply entwined with the political freedoms we take for granted."

So, as we head into the great unknown of the general election, it's literally anybody's guess where we'll end up. All we do know is that for local government, the worst probably isn't over. In fact, it might not have even started.

But thanks to Eric, at least you can say your prayers.